Top SA Church Observer Barred

Johannesburg, South Sfrica - The Zimbabwean government has barred a top official from the South African Council of Churches (SACC) entry into the country to observe the parliamentary elections.

In a statement, SACC said Molefe Tsele, its general secretary, had been refused permission to enter Zimbabwe at the Beitbridge border post. SACC said Tsele had been invited by the Zimbabwe Council of Churches to take part in an ecumenical delegation to observe Thursday's elections.

SACC said Tsele was told by Zimbabwean immigration officials that his name did not appear on the Zimbabwean government's list of accredited election observers. But the council said it applied to the Zimbabwean government for accreditation 14 days ago.

Authorities in Harare have also barred observers from European countries from observing the elections which have courted international attention amid allegations the electoral environment in the country is heavily tilted in favour of President Mugabe's Zanu PF party.

Some human rights organisations, at home and abroad, have predicted that Zanu PF would win the poll as a result of the lopsided electoral environment.

SACC is not the first victim of Harare's intolerance towards South African organisations keen on observing Zimbabwe's elections. The government twice booted out a delegation from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) which had visited Zimbabwe on a fact finding mission to establish whether the political environment is conducive for a free and fair election.

But the 20-member delegation was kicked out of the country moments after touching down at the Harare International Airport.

The Zimbabwean government accuses Cosatu of meddling in its internal political affairs - a charge the South African umbrella labour union vehemently denies.

A similar delegation from the Democratic Alliance (DA), South Africa's official opposition party, which tried to visit Zimbabwe was met with the same fate.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and human rights organisations have accused the government of only inviting organisations seen to be friendly to President Mugabe and his Zanu PF party to observe the elections.

President Mugabe faces a tough challenge from the MDC, led by former trade union leader Morgan Tsvangirai.